Robert Jeffress - Why God Sends Good People To Hell?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. One of the most common questions I hear as a pastor is this one, "How could a loving God send people to hell"? On the surface, it's a convincing question, but once you dig deeper, you'll find that the argument doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Today, we're going to see that all of us are worthy of eternal judgment. Gratefully, Jesus has provided a solution. My message is titled, "Why God Sends Good People to Hell" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
"The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them. The flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is wet and held over them and the pit has opened her mouth under them. O sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in". So warned the puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards in his classic sermon, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God". Those of you who have studied literature know that when Edwards delivered that message, he did so without the usual sweat and bombast that characterized evangelists in later years. Instead, Edwards simply read the words of his sermon from a manuscript, flipping over page after page after page. And yet his colorful description of hell sent his audience into convulsions of weeping and repentance.
Today, if such a sermon were preached in most churches, it would send members out the door looking for a more seeker-sensitive congregation to join. The fact is it's not politically correct to talk about the reality of hell. And truthfully, it's never been that politically correct. People have always resisted the idea of an eternal place of torment for those who die without Christ. By the way, unbelievers are not the only ones who find the idea of hell politically incorrect.
A recent survey among theology professors, professors who teach in the seminary, reveal that only 50% of theology professors said they believe in the existence of hell. Nearly half of all seminary students believe that it is "In poor taste to tell unbelievers that hell is their destination if they reject Christ". And only 10% of students, theology students, said that the first step in influencing unbelievers should be to warn them about hell. Even among theologians who do believe in hell, there is a serious revision going on about their ideas about hell. Many people are trying to turn down the temperature of hell, if you will.
For example, a few years ago, pope John Paul ii announced that hell is not a punishment imposed externally by God, but is instead a person's own choice to be separated from God and, "The thought of hell should not create anxiety or despair in people. But instead it is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom". Indeed, more and more theologians are emphasizing that hell is a place where there's an absence from God more than a place of eternal suffering. Jeffrey Sheler writing in "U.S. News and world report" summarizes the rethinking that's going on about hell. "Jonathan Edwards would scarcely recognize the hell of today. After decades of near obscurity, the netherworld has taken on a new image, more of a deep funk than a pit of fire, suggesting that hell may not be so hot after all".
Whether we eradicate the idea of hell altogether or simply try to make it a little more comfortable, are we correct in doing so? Today, we're going to look at the words of the only reliable guide I know of who can tell us with absolute certainty what happens to those who die without Jesus Christ. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Luke chapter 16. This is a story of two very different men who live two very different lives and experience two very different destinies. Luke 16:19, it says, "Now there was a certain rich man and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table. Besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom".
That's where God is, where Christ is, the presence of the Lord. "And the rich man also died and was buried. And in hades, the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and he saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And the rich man cried out and said, 'father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame'".
Now, here are two men. And by the way, I believe this is not a parable. I believe it's an actual occurrence, because Jesus used proper names in this story. Two men who died. One man was a poor man, his name was Lazarus. The other, a rich man. And when they died, they went to two different destinies. The rich man went to hades, not because he was rich, but because he never called upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Lazarus, his name literally means "God is my helper". At some point, this man Lazarus trusted in the Lord and therefore he was saved and he went to heaven, into Abraham's bosom. But these two men experienced two very different destinies. One in heaven, the other in hell.
Now, what I want you to see from this passage are three things that Jesus told us about hell. First of all, hell is an actual location. Write it down, hell is an actual location. Now, in the New Testament, there are three Greek words that are all translated hell in your English Bible. The first word is the word tartaros, tartaros. Not tartar sauce, but it's tartaros, okay? And it's only used one time in the New Testament, in second Peter 2:4, and it's used to describe a special place of judgment for a group of wicked angels. These wicked angels committed a sin described in Jude 6 and Genesis 6. They came from heaven and they cohabited with men. And it was an especially heinous sin. And God confined them to this place of tartaros.
The second word that is used in the New Testament to describe hell or translated hell is the word Gehenna. Gehenna. Now this is the word Jesus used most frequently to talk about hell. It's used 11 times in the New Testament. Many times it's also translated the lake of fire. Now, this is the eternal destination of those who die without Christ. It is the place of final judgment. We'll see it in just a moment in Revelation chapter 20, Gehenna. And then the third word that is used is the word hades. And that's the word we find here in Luke 16. Now, stay with me on this. Hades is the temporary destination of the unsaved. It is the temporary destination of the unsaved. When you die, whether you're a Christian or a non-Christian, the moment you die, you don't just cease to exist nor do you go to sleep awaiting the final judgment. If you're a Christian, the Bible says, "To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord".
Second Corinthians 5:8. The moment you as a Christian die, the last time you shut your eyes here on earth, in an instant, you'll awaken in the presence of Jesus. Now, you're not in the final heaven and earth. That hasn't been created yet. But you go to be with the Lord, wherever that is. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Immediately, you begin experiencing the benefits of life with Christ, the presence of Christ, Abraham's bosom. Likewise, for unbelievers, the moment they die, they go to this place called hades, where the rich man went. It is a place of torment, even though it is a temporary place. And those who go to hades stay there until the final judgment, the Great White Throne judgment, when the Bible says in Revelation 20:15 hades will be emptied and all its occupants will stand before the Great White Throne judgment. And John says, "If any man's name was not found in the book of life, he was cast into Gehenna, the lake of fire".
So right now, every unsaved person who has ever lived since the time of Adam is in this place called hades awaiting the final judgment when he will eventually be cast into Gehenna, the lake of fire. Now, I say that to say, we are going to use the words hades and hell or Gehenna interchangeably, because Jesus taught that both are places of eternal torment. First of all, hell is an actual place. Jesus firmly taught, by the way, that heaven is an actual location, it is a real place. In John 14:2, Jesus said, "I go to prepare a" what? "A place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again to take you unto myself". That word place, topos, means a geographical location. Heaven's not just a state of mind, it is a real place.
Now, what I want you to see is, if heaven is a real geographical location, so is hell, because Jesus links the two together over and over again. A good illustration of that is Matthew 25:46. Just jot it down and then look at it on the screen. Matthew 25:46, it says, "And these," talking about the unrighteous, "Will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life". What happens to the righteous? They go to a place of eternal life. The unrighteous, the non-believer, goes to eternal punishment. You can't have one group of people, believers, going to an actual geographical location and have the other group going to a state of mind. Do you see what I'm saying here? Both are actual geographical locations. Secondly, Jesus taught that hell is a place of horrendous suffering. It is a place of horrendous suffering.
Notice in verse 24. The rich man begs Abraham for mercy. "Have mercy for me, for I am in agony in this flame". In Mark 9:48, Jesus taught that hell was a place where the worm never died and the fire was never quenched. In Matthew 22:13, he talked about hell as being a place of intense loneliness and sorrow, where there will be continual weeping and gnashing of teeth. We all agree that hell is going to be a place of suffering. Jesus taught that. But are we to believe that in hell there is a literal furnace burning, a literal fire, consuming the literal flesh of people day and night, forever and ever? What Jesus is saying is the reality is so horrible of the physical pain you will suffer there, there are no human words to describe it. The closest I can get to describing what hell will be like would be like having your flesh on fire day and night, forever and ever.
Make no mistake, Jesus clearly taught hell is a place of horrendous suffering. And thirdly, Jesus taught that hell is a place of suffering forever. It's a place of suffering forever. Today, a growing number of Christians have embraced what is called annihilationism to describe what happens to non-Christians when they die. Simply put, annihilationism as the idea that when a non-Christian dies, he stands before God in judgment, God judges him, and then destroys him. That is, he ceases to exist. A Christian lives forever in heaven, a non-Christian is judged and then destroyed. The reasoning goes, how could a loving, righteous God take any delight in tormenting and torturing unbelievers forever and ever and ever? You just can't reconcile that with a loving God, they say. Or certainly the idea of destroying, annihilating unbelievers takes a little bit of the sting out of hell, but is that what the Bible teaches? Does the Bible teach that an believer is judged and then destroyed?
Again, there's some scripture verses that seem to teach that. Those who believe in an annihilationism would point to the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not," what? "Perish, but have eternal life". Or Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body," Jesus said, "But are unable to kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in hell". That word perish or the word destroy seem to indicate that what happens to an unbeliever, they just cease to exist, they perish, they are destroyed. And yet when you look at those words, even in the English language, they always don't mean instantaneous destruction.
For example, you could say the mountaineers perished from starvation. Does that mean they died instantly because they missed a meal? No, starvation doesn't happen instantly. It occurs over a period of time. Or if you were to say, the sun destroyed the wood deck on our patio, does that mean in a minute or an hour the sun completely destroyed the wood? No, it's a destruction that takes a period of time, a long period of time to occur. Whenever you look at these verses that I mentioned along with the rest of scripture, you'll discover that there is no instantaneous destruction of unbelievers. They go on forever and ever and ever, just as believers live on forever and ever and ever.
Again, go back to Matthew 25:46 when Jesus is describing the eternal destiny of the saved and the unsaved. He says, "And these," these talking about unbelievers, "Will go away into" what kind of punishment? "Eternal punishment, but the righteous will enter into eternal life". It's interesting when you look in the Book of Revelation at the word aionas, which is translated forever and ever and ever. The same word in Revelation 22:5 that is used to describe heaven forever and ever and ever is also used in Revelation 20:15 and Revelation 20:10 to describe the fate of unbelievers. They are tormented day and night, forever and ever.
I want to show you something very interesting in the Bible. Turn over to Revelation chapter 19 for just a moment. Revelation 19:20. The setting for this verse is the second coming of Jesus. The Battle of Armageddon has been concluded. Christ has returned, we have returned along with him. And notice the first thing that Christ does when he returns to earth, verse 20, Revelation 19. It says, "And the beast," that is, the antichrist, "Was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence by which he deceived those who had received the Mark of the beast and those who had worshiped his image, these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone".
Okay, this is when Christ returns. Then Revelation 20, the first verses describe Christ setting up his kingdom for a thousand years on the earth. Satan, the third part of the Satanic Trinity, is bound for those thousand years while Christ reigns. And then Satan is loosed for a little while. And then after the final rebellion, verse 10, notice what happens, God calls it quits. It's now time to bring an end to all of this rebellion. And what does he do? Verse 10, "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false profit are also".
Now think about this. The beast and the false prophet had been thrown into that lake a thousand years before this. A thousand years had elapsed. Had they been destroyed in the lake of fire, John would've said they were cast into the fire of lake and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were. But instead, it says where they are. A thousand years after being cast into the lake of fire, the beast and the false prophet are still alive. They burn there forever. And then notice verse 15. "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire".
What's the eternal destiny of those who die without Christ, whose names are not in that book of life? They suffer day and night, forever and ever and ever. Hell is a place of suffering forever. I want you to notice something else in these verses. Notice in verse 20 of chapter 19, the beast and the false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire, which burns with brimstone. Fire, brimstone. You go to verse 10 of chapter 20, the devil was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone. And then verse 15, the lake of fire. How many people do you know who say, "I don't want to go to a church that preaches hell, fire and brimstone, I don't want that kind of a church"?
I want you to imagine, for example, going to a water safety class, but telling the instructor, "Now, I don't want to hear anything about drowning. You can teach me all you want to about water safety, but don't you dare mention drowning". Ladies and gentlemen, the only reason a water instructor talks about drowning, the only reason a driver's ed instructor talks about accidents and crashing, the only reason a doctor would mention cancer and heart disease would be because those things are real possibilities. And these people are charged with doing everything they can to help you miss that real possibility. It's the same way with talking about hell, fire and brimstone.
Any church, any pastor who does not talk about not just the possibility but the reality of hell, fire, and brimstone, that pastor, that church, are being derelict in your duties. And ladies and gentlemen, I'm glad to be known as a church that tells the truth about what happens to those who die without Jesus Christ. Listen to me, just like God said, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked," we take no pleasure in telling people that hell is real, that it's an actual place, that it's a place of suffering, horrendous suffering, that it's a place of suffering forever.
The reason we tell people this truth is because we love people and we want to help them escape not just the possibility, the inevitability of what happens to those who die without Christ. You know to me what the worst thing about hell is? As bad as the fire is, the literal suffering of hell, the worst thing about hell is is that it is a forever destination. If you die without Christ and go to hell, once you have spent 10 billion, trillion years there, you will not have lessened by one second the time you have left to spend there. That is the awful truth about hell.